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Thursday September 21 2017

Soylent: Is this the future of food?

For those who haven’t heard about it, Soylent is a so-called nutritionally perfect drink created by Rob Rhinehart, an engineer and entrepreneur.(1) It comes as a powder that you blend with water and oil, and is marketed and sold by Rosa Labs. The company claims that it contains all the elements of a healthy diet, with minimal amounts of sugars, saturated fats, and cholesterol.(1) Its recipe is based on the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine and is approved as a food item by the Food and Drug Administration.(2) After a lot of refining, Soylent 2.0 was recently launched in the market.(2) For those with busy lives, and are looking for easy-to-go meals, Soylent may sound like a dream come true. But is this the way to go?

Although several estimates have been made, the scientific community has yet to discover the precise amount of nutrients our body needs and the benefits that they bring. Let’s examine a tomato for example. A single tomato is known to contain almost 60,000 phytochemicals, a unique group of chemicals only found in a particular plant species.(3) Although frequent tomato consumption is correlated with a decreased incidence of cancer, it is still unclear whether this is due to a single phytochemical or the culminating effect of all 60,000 phytochemicals. (4) Perhaps it may even be just a subset of those 60,000+ phytochemicals, that works synergistically. Considering the amount of equipment, time and effort needed, limited research has been conducted to determine which phytochemicals are involved in decreasing cancer incidence. Therefore, it is possible that Soylent may contain nutrients that are several magnitudes greater or less than the amount necessary for a particular consumer.

In addition, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet that works. In fact, a study published in the journal Cell found that people metabolize the same foods in different ways.(5) It was noted that eating sushi, a low-carb and high-protein food, can increase some individuals’ blood sugar level more than a similar sized portion of ice cream. On the other hand, eating sugary cookies can result in lower glucose levels for some than eating a banana.(5) Although it seems counterintuitive, these results highlight the concept of  biochemical individuality, which states that the nutritional and chemical makeup of each person is unique and that dietary needs vary from person to person. (6)

Therefore, having a liquid that’s engineered for “the average person” doesn’t necessarily mean it will cater to the needs of everyone. Although the idea of not having to worry about a balanced diet seems exciting, it is important to note that Soylent is based on an absurdly oversimplified view of human health which fails to differentiate between nutrients and nutrition; a science not only surrounding the interaction of nutrients and phytochemicals, but also takes into account the degree of differences in biochemical individuality.

By Feroze Nooruddin

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References:

  1. Mostly Harmless. What’s In Soylent [Internet]. 2013 [cited 20 February 2016]. Available from: http://robrhinehart.com/?p=424
  2. Labs R. Soylent — Free your body [Internet]. Soylent.com. 2016 [cited 20 February 2016]. Available from: https://www.soylent.com/product/drink/
  3. Canene-Adams K, Campbell JK, Zaripheh S, Jeffery EH, Erdman JW. The tomato as a functional food. J Nutr. 2005;135(5):1226–30.
  4. Giovannucci E. A Prospective Study of Tomato Products, Lycopene, and Prostate Cancer Risk. CancerSpectrum Knowledge Environment. 2002;94(5):391-398.
  5. Zeevi D, Korem T, Zmora N, Israeli D, Rothschild D, Weinberger A, et al. Personalized Nutrition by Prediction of Glycemic Responses. Cell. 2015;163(5):1079–95.
  6. Anapsid.org,. “Biochemical Individuality: The Key To Understanding What Shapes Your Health”. N.p., 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.

Image reference

  1. Rosa Labs. Soylent Powder Now Even More Affordable [Internet]. 2015 [cited 20 February 2016]. Available from: http://blog.soylent.com/post/128059365657/soylent-powder-now-even-more-affordable

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The Meducator is McMaster University’s undergraduate Health Sciences Journal. It publishes pieces that critically address current issues with a high degree of scientific rigor, but in a way that is accessible to a broad audience.

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